Ray of Hope

Article excerpt

Filegate and the indictments that never came.

In March Robert W. Ray, the independent counsel who succeeded Kenneth Starr last October, filed with the pertinent court a report on his office's probe of the FBI files matter, also known as "Filegate." According to the New York Times, Ray will also file a report on "Travelgate" in early summer and then one on Whitewater in late summer.

Each report will remain under seal for three months, during which time those named will be able to make comments in an appendix. If the judges then release the total package--as they generally have in previous independent counsel investigations--the time for full evaluation will finally have arrived. In filing his first report, Ray usefully has provided its conclusions in a public statement, a practice he apparently intends to continue. Thus, some assessment is possible now.

This first report concerns a matter that came to light in 1996: that during the first year of the administration the White House director of security, Craig Livingstone, and his aide, Anthony Marceca, improperly obtained hundreds of FBI background files, including those of officials of previous Republican administrations. The White House said the files (which can contain disparaging material) were never used and had not been retrieved for partisan political reasons. It had all been "an honest bureaucratic snafu." But neither Livingstone, whom no one at the White House would admit to actually having hired, nor Marceca, who had a history of fringe political activity, were the sort usually entrusted with White House security matters. Might the Clintons, who had proven themselves untrustworthy in other contexts and whose White House had compiled an enemies list, have been up to something, well, Nixonian?

Attorney General Janet Reno asked Starr to investigate. The court's jurisdictional grant was narrow: Marceca was the only person it named and the charge was to look into whether he had lied to investigators. But everyone knew that the question bounced to Starr was whether there had been a politically motivated conspiracy involving senior White House officials and/or the Clintons to violate the Privacy Act.

Ray concludes: "There was no substantial and credible evidence that any senior White House official, or First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, was involved" in seeking the files. Ray also said-concluding another matter Reno gave Starr later in 1996-that there was "no substantial and credible evidence" that former White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum lied to Congress regarding his discussions with Mrs. Clinton about hiring Livingstone or about his knowledge concerning the circumstances of Livingstone's appointment. Ray added that there was "no substantial and credible evidence" that Mrs. Clinton was involved in hiring Livingstone.

On ABC's "This Week," Ray went beyond his statement to say "the files went into the vault at the White House and that's where they remained. Our findings, based upon an extensive investigation, indicated that there was no dissemination [of the files] for partisan political purposes." Ray, refusing to say more, declined my interview request.

Without the report in hand, it's difficult to judge the roles of Livingstone or Marceca, or, for that matter, of the FBI, and it's impossible to know how Ray dealt with what Nussbaum was quoted in an FBI interview summary as saying, and which Nussbaum said was a misquotethat Livingstone had been "highly recommended" by the first lady. Still, Ray's conclusions are crystal clear. So is his bottom line: No prosecutions were warranted-not of the Clintons or anyone else.

In response, a White House spokesman said that Ray's statement "confirms what Mr. Starr said [in his House testimony on his impeachment referral] two years ago." In fact, what Stan said, with respect to the FBI files matter, was merely that there was "no evidence of any wrongdoing by anyone . …